Recycle BC’s response to CBC Marketplace
The people of British Columbia can be proud to live in a province that has the most advanced and integrated processes for the management of residential recycling of anywhere in Canada. It is a non-profit system that is studied and praised around the world and, in the face of incredibly challenging recycling markets the world over, it is a system that has proven itself repeatedly, as we have found end markets for our materials when others cannot.
The most significant advantages of a full producer responsibility program for the collection of residential packaging and paper are the rigorous processes it demands, the ability to report rich, verified results, the commitment to transparency and, most of all, the steadfast focus on environmental outcomes.
We are deeply concerned with Marketplace’s juxtaposition of three simple commercial transactions as a proxy for the sophisticated system of checks and balances that exist within BC’s residential recycling system. The stakes could not be higher – the world is faced with a global plastics crisis – and this misleading report could erode faith in a system that is producing the best environmental outcomes in Canada, which is a disservice to the people of BC, Canada and the world.
The transactions that Marketplace executed as part of its story were one-time, business-to-business transactions outside of the Recycle BC program. They did not leverage or reflect the rigorous processes that underpin Recycle BC’s full producer responsibility system, which Recycle BC shared with them but were not reflected in the report.
Recycle BC conducts more than 1,800 material audits per year to determine the composition and quality of the material we collect at the curbside and in depots. We do this to continuously improve our quality to ensure we can access end markets that will recycle our materials. We track the end market destination for our collected materials through a chain of custody process. Our process demands full traceability and auditability of all shipments to end markets or disposal, using documentation to verify where materials are shipped from and where they are sent.
Our contracts stipulate that Recycle BC must approve the end markets for all of our materials before they are transferred. In the case of plastic, 99 percent remains in Canada. This end market is Merlin Plastics, who was found in the report to have recycled the plastic it received. Less than 1% of our plastic is shipped overseas in the form of densified polystyrene, and this constitutes only a portion of the foam we collect. We have personally visited this company to verify its end use. This foam is used in picture frames.
We can also state with certainty that some of the plastic that we collect has been pelletized and reintroduced into products such as new plastic bags and cosmetics containers right here in British Columbia. These are the real facts of BC’s world-leading full producer responsibility program for residential recycling of packaging and paper. We are helping to create a circular economy right here in Canada.
But our work does not end there. We have also exercised our right to refuse to send materials to end markets that do not meet our rigid demands. As well, as part of our commitment to find ethical and viable end markets for our materials, we conducted five trips abroad, visiting seven countries and 15 end markets between 2017-2019, in addition to the local Canadian end markets we visit. We do this to ensure that we are responsibly managing the materials we collect on behalf of our producers and the residents of BC.
Our commitment to transparency is evident to anyone who has read our annual reports, which are audited by third parties to ensure the accuracy of the information contained therein and can be found on our website. In each report we provide the end fate of all of our materials, according to the pollution prevention hierarchy.
In 2018, 87.3% of the materials we collected were managed by recycling. A portion of the material we collected could not be recycled, but we were able to move it up the pollution prevention hierarchy by turning it into an engineered fuel to be used as a replacement for coal in industrial processes. This represents only 3% of our materials, the majority of which was plastic that could not be recycled. Finally, 8% of the material we collected was sent to landfill because of contamination. The remaining material, accounting for less than 2%, represents unshipped inventory at year’s end. All of this information is in our annual report for 2018.
Unlike other jurisdictions across North America that are limiting the materials they collect in the face of challenging end markets, Recycle BC has been steadily expanding these materials over the last five years. BC residents can now include more items than ever in their blue boxes, including items like aerosol cans and the caps, concentrated juice containers, plastic berry containers, hot and cold drink cups, empty coffee pods, and plastic plant pots to name just a few.
We believe Recycle BC is a leading example for the responsible management of residential recycling and we believe the facts speak for themselves. We know there is more work to be done and we are committed to continuously improving. But the single most important fact is, British Columbians can feel secure that when they put accepted plastic packaging in their residential recycling, we will manage it properly.
What Happens To My Recycling: End Markets
Recent changes in global recycling markets have made it more difficult for recycling programs to market collected material. You may have watched or read news stories that show the effects of these changes around the world, including Canada. Despite shifting world markets for much of Canada’s recyclable materials, Recycle BC has been able to ensure that plastic packaging, paper products, glass and metal containers collected through its program in BC are still being recycled.
To help explain how Recycle BC has been able to maintain our end-markets and ensure your material is being recycled, we’ve created a short video.
Recycling markets are continually changing so it’s very important that residents continue to do their part help us collect empty and clean material that can be recycled. For a full list of recyclable materials and how to recycle them, click here for our “What Can I Recycle?” page. You can also download our app to get your schedule, search materials, and find your nearest depot.